It was a slightly chilly, fall evening here in Montreal, and I was feeling a strange mix of nervousness and excitement. It’s a feeling I used to experience a lot when I was younger and began attending my first shows. But, now at 30 years of age, I’ve attended over 200 concerts in my lifetime, and I don’t get that feeling anymore. That is, until I woke up this morning and realized I’d be attending my second Chelsea Wolfe show that night. Ever since I first discovered her music about two years ago, she’s been on my daily playlists. When I saw her live for the first time in May of 2015, it was easily the best show I had attended in years, and it revitalized my interest in expanding my musical horizons. I started discovering and listening to new music I never thought I’d enjoy, and I attribute it to that show. Needless to say, that show practically changed my life, so my expectations for tonight were high.
The evening began with the EBM duo, Youth Code, consisting of Ryan George, the mastermind behind the plethora of keys, tracks, and beats, and Sara Taylor, a powerhouse vocalist. The evening was off to a great start. I had only recently discovered Youth Code through a remix of one of their songs, “Lost At Sea” that features Chelsea Wolfe and George Clarke from Deafheaven. I was intrigued and looked forward to seeing their set. They killed it with their insane combination of electronic and industrial music, and blasted through songs like “Transitions,” “Commitment to Complications,” “Tiger’s Remorse” and a few more. Sara’s shrieking and the pummeling beats coming through Ryan’s rig obliterated our ears. It was loud, wild, and for lack of a better term, fucking awesome. The crowd got into it, and I have to assume Sara herself appreciated it as she jumped into the crowd to join them at one point.
It was a little past 10:00; the lights dimmed, and ominous music played from the speakers with the chant “Flux, hiss, welt, groan,” a theme of words present throughout Chelsea Wolfe’s newest record, Hiss Spun, and finally Chelsea and her band hit the stage, opening their set with the dark, doom-like track Spun. It was immediately apparent to me that the entire band was in the zone. They crushed through a set consisting of mostly new tracks like “16 Psyche,” “Particle Flux,” “Twin Fawn,” and “The Culling.” Of course, peppered into the set list were some old songs such as “Feral Love” and “Carrion Flowers.” But a highlight for me was when they played “The Warden.” Taken from the record Pain is Beauty, this track is usually quite electronic and dancy, but live, it took on an incredibly different feel with the addition of heavy drums and guitars.
At this point, we need to talk about Chelsea’s fantastic band, because the live performance is nothing without her incredible group. Comprising of Ben Chisolm (a long-time collaborator and friend of Chelsea), Jess Gowrie, and Fred Sablan (and at one point early on in the tour, Troy Van Leeuwen, who recorded a lot of guitars on her new record and even appeared in her video for “16 Psyche”), these individuals, along with Chelsea at the helm, form a powerhouse team. The entire band performs as a single unit, never missing a beat. Personally, watching Jess Gowrie play drums was an absolute treat. Her drumming has added an entirely new layer of heaviness to the live sound, and I’m convinced the darker and heavier tone of Chelsea’s latest record is in no small part thanks to Jess’ dynamic and intuitive drum patterns. Whether the song calls for a slow, plodding beat or some off-pattern, quick changes, she does it all. Throw in the incredible instrumentation of the rest of the band and the result is something that can only be described as pure, raw magic in the form of music.
The night ended with an encore of two songs, the hauntingly beautiful “Halfsleeper” and the closing track on Hiss Spun, “Scrape.” I am at a loss for words. I’d like to think that I’m a writer capable of coming up with something better to say, but how exactly does one describe an evening like this any other way than perfect? Because that’s exactly what it was. I was heartbroken that the night had to end. I could’ve sat there and listened to Chelsea play her entire discography, if such a thing was possible. The only thing I can say is that if Chelsea Wolfe is anywhere even remotely close to your town and you DON’T see her, you’re missing out.
Written by Dominic Abate
Photography by Michael Kovacs
*edited by Kate Erickson